By DOTTY NIST
A Ferris wheel has been proposed for the Events Area at the Village of Baytowne Wharf within the Sandestin Development of Regional Impact (DRI).
The proposal was presented at the July 3 meeting of the Walton County Technical Review Committee (TRC) as a less-than-minor development. The meeting took place at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
Renee Bradley of Walton County Planning explained that the wheel was proposed to be approximately 60 feet in height and located on a 0.065-acre site at the Events Plaza.
Applicant Tom Becnel of Sandestin Investments, L.L.C., had previously been granted conditional approval for the Ferris wheel by the TRC in September 2012. However, the TRC had required a new application because Becnel wanted to change the location where the wheel would be placed.
Bradley outlined conditions that the county would require for approval, which included that the wheel be equipped with a manual crank that would be easily accessible for emergency use if needed, that someone with Ferris wheel operating knowledge be available for support if needed at all times, and that training with the wheel be conducted with South Walton Fire District personnel prior to the wheel going into operation.
Present at the TRC meeting was David Milam, an attorney representing the condominium association for Gateway, a condominium complex adjacent to the property where the wheel would be located. Milam presented concerns of the condo owners. He explained that these were related to noise, lighting and privacy. Since comments to the TRC are supposed to be confined to technical aspects, Milam said a concern from that perspective would be lighting.
Representing the applicant, Dean Burgis of Emerald Coast Associates commented that there would be low-level lighting on the wheel but that it would not illuminate the ground.
Milam responded that Gateway is a four-story condominium and that lighting on the wheel is therefore “a major concern.”
He added that the height of the wheel would be another technical concern for the condo residents. Milam said it was his understanding that Walton County’s position was that a variance to the county’s 50-foot height limit is in existence for Sandestin due to a 1986 decision of the Zoning Board of Adjustments (ZBA). “I’m not sure that variance is binding,” Milam said.
He argued that there should be a distinction between buildings and structures in connection with height. While Sandestin homeowners understand that there will be buildings over 50 feet in height, Milam noted, “it’s quite another thing to plop a Ferris wheel next to a residential community.” He was of the opinion that structures, as distinguished from buildings, should not exceed 50 feet.
Burgis countered that the applicant had been required to withdraw from a building space allotment for the Ferris wheel proposal, that the wheel would be required to be designed by a structural engineer, and that permitting would be through the county building official.
Bradley commented that when she had previously asked whether the wheel would be lighted, she had been told no.
Burgis responded that the lighting would be fluorescent used “as a visual.” The lights, he explained, would be turned off when the wheel ceased operation, which would be at 10 p.m. according to his understanding.
In response to a question, he said the wheel would be permanent and not seasonal and that it would be constructed to wind speed requirements. The state would supervise installation, Burgis added.
Milam commented that he appreciated that the lighting would be unobtrusive, but he asked that the TRC consider the impact on the condo residents “facing a permanent Ferris wheel next to their building.”
Bill Godwin, president of the homeowners’ association, asked if the wheel could be disassembled in the event of an approaching storm. Burgis responded that it could be if necessary.
Godwin said he had heard that it takes 80 hours to disassemble a Ferris wheel.
In response to a question, Burgis said the wheel would be placed in the area where the skating rink is now located and that it would probably be necessary to relocate the rink.
Ken Lloyd, president of the Sandestin Owners Association (SOA), commented that SOA had written a letter to Becnel advising him that the association would prefer not to have the Ferris wheel at all due to the dominating visual aspect that it would present.
SOA Vice President Hollis Risley emphasized the need for a commitment to have a licensed Ferris wheel operator present at all times if the wheel is installed.
A Gateway condominum resident also commented that never in his “wildest dreams” would he have expected to be presented with a Ferris wheel going in next to his building. “Those condos were built for views,” he told the board members, expressing concern about a lowering of condominium property values as a result of the structure.
Bradley made a motion to continue the proposal to the next meeting, in order to allow time for an attorney’s opinion to be obtained on whether the height variance previously discussed would apply to the Ferris wheel in light of the structure versus building issue that had been raised. She also directed the engineer to provide further information on the lighting being proposed for the wheel.
The motion was approved.
The meeting was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on July 10 at the South Walton Annex. Walton County Planning and Development Services Director Wayne Dyess said that additional public comment would be taken at that time.
The proposal had not been set up to be considered by the Walton County Planning Commission or the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC), as the practice by the county has been for the DRB to be responsible for decisions on minor and less-than-minor development order applications. However, in the draft BCC agenda released for the July 9 county commission meeting, a request was listed under the name of District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows for a public hearing to be scheduled before the BCC on the Ferris wheel proposal “due to its impact on residential properties and the need for public input on requests impacting residential properties.”